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October 5, 2016

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Millennials Managing Boomers: 10 Ways To Bridge The Age/Experience Gapby Joe Folkman

millenialsmanagingboomersYou know that awkward moment when you are telling someone how to improve in a job they’ve held longer than you’ve been in the workforce? Today a lot of newly appointed managers are finding themselves managing direct reports that are 10 or more years their senior. Many find this situation difficult for both the managers and those being managed. What can young managers do to surmount this hurdle?

Looking through our datasets, we identified 1,217 cases where a younger leader was managing a direct report that was 10 or more years older. We separated them into two groups: 1) those whose direct reports had rated them as below average on their overall leadership effectiveness and 2) those who’d been rated above average. The graph below clearly demonstrates the big disparity between young managers rated as below average or highly effective. In spite of the relatively small sample, however, we were highly intrigued to learn what the effective leaders were doing to create this huge difference.

We looked at the effectiveness ratings based on 49 leadership behaviors and identified those that produce the most significant difference—in other words, the behaviors that seem to make the biggest difference in causing older direct reports to feel their younger mangers are doing an excellent job. As an outline, we compiled them into 10 dimensions that can make the job of managing older employees much easier. Continued on Forbes.com.

September 22, 2016

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Opening The Leadership Pipeline: 3 Vital Steps You Should Be Taking Todayby Jack Zenger

960x0 (1)It is not unusual for an organization to worry about finding the right new CEO. However, my concern goes far beyond the CEO replacement. I see a serious problem in the making. The world is about to experience a dearth of effective senior leaders. Why? Several forces have combined, as if it were a perfect storm, to generate this critical situation.

1. The financial downturn slowed retirements. Senior executives stayed on and created congestion at the top. Many organizations have one-half of their senior leadership teams who are immediately eligible for retirement or who will be within the next five years.

2. Companies have pared back investments perceived as unnecessary. In order to meet profit objectives, companies have been operating with a lean mentality. They’ve curtailed rotational assignments that formerly aided in development goals. Development positions such as “two in the box” have been abandoned. Overseas assignments are reduced, despite their proven value for executive development.

3. Formal development programs have been slowed, downsized or totally abandoned. The consulting group Gap International surveyed executives who reported that they believe talent can make or break organizations (85%) yet ironically, fewer than half are investing in leadership development in the coming year. The organizations that have continued their leadership development programs have scaled back. I see corporations providing development for 15-20 participants per year who are selected from a leadership group of 2000 or more. They want to say they are continuing their executive development program, but most realize it as merely a token effort.

These factors have been compounded by the accelerating pace of business. The good and bad news is that beginning now, about four million executives will retire each year. The outflow valve is opening and the flood of upper management vacancies will appear. However, there are serious concerns on the part of senior executives about whether or not the input valve is open that prepares the generation below them to have received the necessary development to take over. Various surveys of senior executives conclude that:

• Sixty percent of companies are facing leadership shortages that impede their performance.

• Thirty-one percent say developing leaders is their largest talent issue (Deloitte).

• There was a 30% drop in appropriately aged managers between the years of 2009 and 2015.

• According to the Ken Blanchard Company’s annual corporate issues survey, executives said there is a skills gap for corporate leadership positions, as well as trained talent at all levels. The top five priorities in order of importance are leadership development, managerial development, supervisory development, coaching skills for leaders and communications skills.

Prior Forbes reporting confirms these conclusions. They noted, “The glass ceiling has been replaced by a ‘gray ceiling’ comprised of baby boomers firmly entrenched in upper management positions.”

A study by Zenger Folkman reported in Harvard Business Review shared that in a group of more than 17,000 leaders, the average age of the participants in a leadership development initiative was 42. More than half of the participants were between 36 and 49. Less thank 10% were under 30, and less than 5% were under 27. Continued on Forbes.com.

September 8, 2016

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The Contagious Effect Of Good And Bad Leaders (How Are You Feeling Today?)by Jack Zenger

960x0I joined an organization early in my career in which the VP of administration was universally described as a terrible leader. He was autocratic, arbitrary, arrogant and harsh in his treatment of others. The organization finally terminated him. Over the next few years I watched every one of his immediate subordinates be let go. The exact reasons varied, but it was rather obvious that every one one of them had acquired a major element of his bad behavior. Even worse, they had lost the ability to initiate anything on their own after being told precisely what to do for so many years. They had suffered an indelible harm that no amount of coaching and development seemed to fix.

This leads to several questions.

1. To what extent does a manager’s behavior impact the engagement of subordinates?

2. How contagious is good or bad leadership? Was this example a fluke or does it represent what generally happens?

3. Does a senior boss’s bad leadership behavior impact only immediate subordinates, or does it keep cascading on down?

To explore the answer to those questions, my colleague Joe Folkman and I started by formulating a theory based on our experience and observations. Continued on Forbes.com.

August 2, 2016

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Why Workplace Feedback Fills Us With Fear (And How To Recover)by Jack Zenger

feedbackWhich would you prefer? Your boss drops by and tells you how much your contribution to the project is appreciated? Or, your boss passes on to you a suggestion about how your contribution to the project could be even greater?

The fact of the matter is that this question has no simple answer. It depends on the level of confidence or self-assurance you have. It depends on how the feedback is delivered by the giver. It depends on the relationship between the giver and you. Generally, what benefits individuals the most is seldom what pleases them at the moment it is given. Finally, what people say they want to receive is not always reflected in their immediate behavior. The simple fact is that a very large percent of the population dreads feedback.

Why? Fundamentally, fear occurs when we believe there is danger. Our brains are wired to keep us from harm. Our innate instincts alert us to danger by signaling us to fight back, flee or freeze. This inherited trait is helpful in many circumstances, but when it comes to managing feedback—particularly critical or corrective feedback—these reactions can be debilitating.

Those of us who fear feedback can often trace our fear to one or more experiences where corrective feedback from a superior or someone who was in authority over us was delivered poorly. The feedback felt so negative our ego was crushed. Experiences like this generate a great deal of anxiety. From then on, the prospect of getting feedback is deemed a traumatic enough experience it becomes the thing we’d go to any length to avoid. Continued on Forbes.com.

July 21, 2016

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The Organizational Epidemic: Is Your Herd Immune?by Jack Zenger

herdimmunityIn 1974, 80% of Japanese children were receiving the vaccine for whooping cough. As a result, there were only 393 cases of whopping cough and no deaths. In the following years the vaccine seemed less important. After all whooping cough wasn’t really that much of a threat. The immunization rates dropped until only 10% of Japanese children were vaccinated.

The result: In 1979, more than 13,000 people in Japan got whooping cough and 41 died. The reason for the outbreak was the lack of “herd immunity.” The success of mass immunization programs hinges on getting a high percentage of individuals inoculated. When a parent fails to immunize a child or you fail to get a flu shot, to some degree, you jeopardize the entire herd.

The concept of herd immunity applies to the leadership of organizations as well. Consider these two scenarios:

A. The organization sponsors 20 different programs and involves 25 people in each. (Think university catalogue and small classes.)
B. The organization sponsors a single and more powerful program and 500 managers participate out of 700 potential attendees.

Which will have the greatest impact? Yes, it is probably obvious that the later solution is best. Yet year after year we see organizations make the choice to send only a select few through a leadership program, or to let everyone pick the one thing they’d like to spend their development dollars on from a menu of options. Then they are surprised when the organization doesn’t change or improve. If organization’s focus is on only 20 people out of 500, there is minimal cultural impact and only the 20 individuals will benefit. You cannot save the herd if you train (immunize) only 4% of your team. Continued on Forbes.com.

July 14, 2016

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What Great Listeners Actually Doby Zenger Folkman

jul16-14-hbr-laura-schneider-communication-02-1200x675Chances are you think you’re a good listener. People’s appraisal of their listening ability is much like their assessment of their driving skills, in that the great bulk of adults think they’re above average.

In our experience, most people think good listening comes down to doing three things:

  • Not talking when others are speaking
  • Letting others know you’re listening through facial expressions and verbal sounds (“Mmm-hmm”)
  • Being able to repeat what others have said, practically word-for-word

In fact, much management advice on listening suggests doing these very things – encouraging listeners to remain quiet, nod and “mm-hmm” encouragingly, and then repeat back to the talker something like, “So, let me make sure I understand. What you’re saying is…” However, recent research that we conducted suggests that these behaviors fall far short of describing good listening skills.

We analyzed data describing the behavior of 3,492 participants in a development program designed to help managers become better coaches. As part of this program, their coaching skills were assessed by others in 360-degree assessments. We identified those who were perceived as being the most effective listeners (the top 5%). We then compared the best listeners to the average of all other people in the data set and identified the 20 items showing the largest significant difference. With those results in hand we identified the differences between great and average listeners and analyzed the data to determine what characteristics their colleagues identified as the behaviors that made them outstanding listeners.

We found some surprising conclusions, along with some qualities we expected to hear. Continued on Harvard Business Review.

June 23, 2016

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People Who Think They’re Great Coaches Often Aren’tby Zenger Folkman


“I think I am a pretty good coach,” the executive across the desk said to us.

Impressed with his positive attitude about himself, we asked, “How do you know?”

He said he had attended a coaching course and learned many of the techniques of good coaching. That triggered a question for us. How many leaders believe they are better coaches than they really are? After all, the most critical test for measuring your effectiveness as a coach lies not in your belief about your own skills but rather on how the recipients of your coaching rate your skills (and on how their own competencies increase afterward).

We examined data on 3,761 leaders who assessed their own coaching skills and had the courage, afterward, to have others give them assessments as well. We analyzed those who overrated their coaching skills and compared the results with those who’d underrated.

What we found: 24% of the leaders in our sample had overrated their skills. Just as many adults believe they are far above average in their driving skills or in possessing common sense, this group believed they were above-average coaches. Continued on Harvard Business Review.

June 16, 2016

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The 3 Keys To Relationship Building That Separate Mediocre Leaders From The Brightest And Bestby Jack Zenger


Humans are hard wired to connect. They are social creatures that crave friendship and positive interactions with others. As much as we yearn for these interactions, however, many of us struggle to be good at building relationships. But why? To gain more clarity, my colleague Joe Folkman and I looked at our data to discover the key elements to developing positive relationships both within and outside of work.

There are three items we use to measure relationships:

1. Balancing results with a concern for others’ needs,

2. Being trusted by other members of the work group

3. Staying in touch with issues and concerns of individuals in the group.

Our data showed that leaders who excelled in these areas were able to develop more positive relationships and in turn significantly improve employee engagement, retention, and discretionary effort. Continued on Forbes.com.

June 8, 2016

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Are You Still Maligning Millennials? Stopby Joe Folkman


Two recent events motivated me to write this blog.

Event 1: I attended a conference where a presentation speaker was talking about how millennials are so different. The speaker was going through the typical list of characteristics we’ve heard hundreds of times when a millennial raised his hand, stood up and said, “I am so tired of hearing this garbage about millennials and none of it is true!” He received an ovation of support from the audience.

Event 2: I was on a call with an organization that was packed with millennials. We were looking at data on employees’ intentions to leave the organization. In this case, 43% of the employees were thinking about quitting compared to the global norm of 28%. The company’s leaders asked, “Is this percentage much higher than average because of the big population of millennials in the organization? We all know millennials are much more likely to be looking for their next job.”

I have been gathering data about millennials and don’t yet have definitive answers for all of the questions, but I do have enough to question some of the assumptions we have about millennials. To find the truth, read the research in Joe Folkman's Forbes blog. Continued on Forbes.com.

May 23, 2016

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4 Ways to Be More Effective at Executionby Zenger Folkman


Most people recognize that execution is a critical skill and strive to perform it well, but they may a) underestimate how important it is to their career advancement or b) not realize that you can improve on execution without working longer hours.

On the first point, bosses place a premium on execution, which we define as the ability to achieve individual goals and objectives. In fact, when we asked senior managers to indicate the importance of this ability, they ranked it first on a list of 16 skills. Other raters in the organization ranked it fourth, behind inspiring and motivating, having integrity and honesty, and problem solving. We recognize that there are many parts of your job that are important, but if you want to move ahead in your career, it might be time to double down on simply getting more stuff done – it’s what your boss wants to see.

Which brings us to the second point. Many managers react with defensiveness or despair to this news; after all, most of the managers we know already feel like they’ve got too much to do. People who are lethargic, slow, or unfocused are rarely (at least in our experience) promoted to upper management positions. The leaders we know already work hard and long – and working harder and longer is not a viable option. In the short term this typically yields improved results, but in the long term leaders burn out. And if they’ve pushed their teams to do the same, team members quit.

But our data – gleaned from tens of thousands of 360-degree performance reviews — tells us that there are more sustainable methods of improving execution. We looked at thousands of leaders who were rated as being highly effective at execution and looked for the coinciding behaviors that enabled this skill. We found a set of behaviors that improve execution. Four behaviors in particular stood out. Continued on Harvard Business Review.

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